Mar 5, 2013

Posted by in Writing | 6 Comments

Naming Fictional Characters – The Process


             I will readily confess that the names of characters I write are not the product of incredible processes, time-consuming think-tank sessions, or established preferences from before I entered high school. The fact of the matter is: 99% of the names I come up with were procured on the spot. I think of a name, I like it, I write the character.

            Am I the only one? I’d like to think not.

            I have always established the character I want to write before I name him. And I’m immensely curious as to whether there are writers out there who have a name first and then “fill in” that name with a personality that matches it. I’m reminded of the episode of Family Guy where Brian sits down to write a novel and he come up with the name Norm Hull. “Cause he’s just a normal guy. But not everybody will get that. That’s just for the scholars a hundred years from now.”

            I think there’s a big difference. If you name a character first and then come up with the actual person, haven’t you already established who he is subconsciously by your own bias toward the name? I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of names and what they mean to people, and I explored that concept in depth in Mobius and Aurora. Names are the containers by which we judge people and pour all our prejudices into. For instance, I’ve never liked the names Wendy, Scott, or Francis, because they are associated with people I have disliked in my lifetime. So, if I were ever to use those names in a future book, they’d probably be for a villain or antagonist.

            But that’s not how I write. I’m on the other side, thinking up characters I really want to write and then establishing names that perfectly fit their characters. Mobius was a name previously associated with a card game I played, Aurora is a Disney princess, Charlotte fits the primped and pampered character I wrote to a T. I can’t imagine ever naming characters the other way around. There are definitely names I really like more than others, but I’ve never saved it for specific characters or novels, and I doubt I ever will.

            I’m not disapproving though! In fact, I’m curious how my fellow authors approach this important step, and if they have their own process. Any volunteers?